Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blue Met 2015: The Mile End Series

We are very happy to announce a new series as part of our 2015 Festival (which runs April 20 - 26, 2015):

The Mile End Series!

This series of literary events in both French and English with innovative and bold writers from all over the world will be at select venues in the Mile End district of Montreal from April 20 - 26, 2015.

We can't say more just quite yet about which authors or which venues or events, so stay tuned for more. But for those who live in or go out in Mile End, April 2015 will be a great opportunity to get involved and see some fascinating events without having to come down town (to our regular venue hotel, Hotel 10, where we'll also be hosting some fun and interesting events at the same time).

More details to come!

We look forward to seeing you in April!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gianrico Carofiglio: Temporary Perfections

So I've had this book, Temporary Perfections, by Italian writer Gianrico Carofiglio, on my bookshelves since May, 2013, when Italian writer Gianrico Carofiglio was at the Festival. I read his other work available in English but I never made it around to this one until this week. After finishing Elena Ferrante and craving something Italian, I zipped through my (many) unread books on my shelf and found this one. Ah, why not?! I liked the other one I read, Reasonable Doubts, so I thought I'd give this one a go.

This was at around 5pm. By 9pm, I had nearly finished it, so absorbed I was in the story that I didn't even get up from my chair except twice briefly.

Typical crime writing in many ways: a mysterious disappearance, a family in grief, a hesitant and reluctant detective/investigator (in this case, lawyer) asked to look into it after the police have failed to make any headway.

But what makes these books stand out is the sheer uniqueness of Carofiglio's hero, Attorney Guido Guerrieri. He's funny, insecure, kind of whiny at times. But still someone you root for.

This is one of the best things about my job, in my estimation: discovering all the writers I wouldn't otherwise discover. Carofiglio's events were all sold out and he was quite the star during those few days here: tall, handsome, more than one person confessed to me they had a crush on him and would ready anything of his based solely on his personal charm and attractiveness.

Though it's not Elena Ferrante, Carofiglio's book did bridge that gap by giving me a noir-ish, atmospheric Italian novel (set in Bari, not far from Naples) that was a good afternoon read.

Now back to Festival reading! More information coming soon!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gary Shteyngart in Montreal!

One of America's best-loved writers will be here in Montreal very soon!

Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story and the memoir Little Failure, will be on stage at the Jewish Public Library on Wednesday, November 5 at 7:30pm. Shteyngart will appear with Eleanor Wachtel from CBC's Writer's and Company. This is really exciting because he doesn't get to Montreal very often so see him while you can!

Shteyngart wrote a really funny piece last week in the New Yorker about his current book tour for promotion of Little Failure. 

Tickets are $15 ($10 for members of the library or students) can be purchased by calling 514-345-6416.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg

Though social media can irritate me at times, one of the benefits I find with its use is the conversations it can inspire about books.

A few weeks ago, someone was asking about Rosa Luxemburg on a friend's site. Since I had written about Luxemburg in the past, I started thinking about her again and last week I picked up a copy of her letters put out by Verso Books.

The book is very interesting. There is some that's dull (the ins and outs of the various communist and socialist parties of Germany, France, Poland, Russia, etc.) but Luxemburg was such a humanist and her sympathies are so often with the working people she sees around her. She's an intellectual, no doubt, but it comes from a place of passion. The letters span European centres of influence: from Paris to Zurich, from Berlin to rural Poland, from Russia to Italy. Luxemburg truly was a vagabond...

It's easy to forget with hindsight and nearly 100 years of (corrupted) Communism, but Luxemburg simply wanted better lives for the mass of humanity that suffered terribly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her collection of letters is one of those books that I keep next to bed and I read a few letters each night. She is such a good writer. When she's not pontificating on social class in Europe pre-WWI, she's focusing on nature and the birds she hears in her garden or the flowers that bloom in her window-sill. seems to me that I am not really a human being at all, but like a bird or a beast in human form. I feel so much more in the meadows when the grass is humming with bees than -- at one of our party congresses. I can say that to you, for you will not promptly suspect me of treason to socialism! You know that I really hope to die at my post, in a street fight or in prison...I seek refuge and find repose in nature. 

She's rather forgotten today though I think I came to her work via a German artist who I love, Käthe
The Funeral of Karl Liebknecht by Käthe Kollwitz
. Kollwitz, a committed social activist herself, was a close friend of Karl Liebknecht, who was a close friend of Luxemburg's (and many letters in this collection are addressed to him). When Liebknecht (and Luxemburg) was kidnapped and murdered, Kollwitz dedicated much of her work to commemorating him and the causes he stood for.

Luxemburg, kidnapped, shot in the head and dumped into a canal in Berlin, fell out of fashion after her death at age 47. Hated by both Communists and capitalists, her political writings have mostly been untranslated (she wrote in Polish, German, and Russian) and this letter collection contains many letters translated for the first time. What I appreciate most about Luxemburg is her voice, the vast knowledge she had on so many topics. I love, too, the window her letters allow us into a 19th century woman as she went about her life, falling in love, battling with various editors and political agitators, suffering in prison, writing about nature, politics, love, and history. Also, despite the historical period, so much of her concerns, so much of what is happening politically mirrors our own concerns and politics today. From prison in 1917:

How I deplore the loss of all these months and years in which we might have had so many joyful hours together, notwithstanding all the horrors that are going on throughout the world. Do you know, the longer it lasts, and the more the infamy and monstrosity of the daily happenings surpasses all bounds, the more tranquil and more confident becomes my personal outlook...these are the only possible lines along which history can move, and we must follow the movement without losing sight of the main trend. I have the feeling that the moral filth through which we are wading, this huge madhouse in which we live, may all of a sudden, between one day and the next, be transformed into its very opposite, may become something stupendously great and heroic.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Poetry at the Enpuki-ji Zen Centre and a new theatre piece

I love going to readings at different kinds of spaces: former bath houses (St-Michel, where Infinitheatre  has their main space), strip clubs, drag bars, gardens outside, brunch places, even metro cars. The space itself informs the readings in very key ways and the audience relates to the readings in very different ways as well.

Before the reading: the Enpuki-ji Zen Centre
The other night I saw a reading at the Enpuki-ji Zen Centre in Montreal. The space is amazingly simple and very beautiful. And I've seen events here in the past though this was the first reading I've attended here.

The readings were by writers I know and whose work I know as well. Asa Boxer, Gabe Foreman, Darren Bifford. And a writer I didn't know: Talya Rubin. What a wonderful evening! Each poet read a mix of older published work along with work which they are still developing. What stands out for me is the simple uniqueness of each voice: Boxer is a confident, incredibly intelligent reader whose work needs to be seen to appreciated, where one can linger of his images and the juxtaposition of language he excels at. Despite his play with language, he's a physical poet in many ways, focusing on tangibles and the concrete. Foreman is funny, also intelligent, but with a view of the world that is uniquely his own (his collection from Coach House a couple of years ago, A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Kinds of People is one of my favorite most recent poetry collections). Bifford's work I am less familiar with though I've seen him read in the past (a great interview with him on his work here).

Talya Rubin's collection comes out in the spring from Signal Editions, Véhicule Press's poetry imprint. But more immediately, Rubin has a theatre piece about to take the stage at La Chapelle. The piece is called Of the Causes of Wonderful Things (see a trailer here). The show toured all over Australia and Rubin is bringing it to Montreal for the first time (the first time in North America, in fact).
The premise is this (from the Theatre La Chapelle site): when five children mysteriously disappear in a small town in the American South, their aunt begins a search to find them that leads her underground, literally. The work is an installation theatre piece for a limited audience of 50. Immersed in a noir atmospheric world, Of the Causes of Wonderful Things weaves dark comedy with tones of Faulkner and the Southern Gothic. This deeply human, visionary solo work examines the redemptive power of confronting darkness.

I love theatre and the last few years, it's become a major part of my exploration, both in terms of possible Festival events but also personally. So this piece is definitely a  must see for early November. It shows at La Chapelle from November 4 - 9, each performance limited to only 50 seats.

Yet again, Montreal shows its amazing innovation and variety of events and artists. I travel a lot and see artists (writers, dancers, performers) all over the world, and Montreal is up there with some of the best cities to see art. We should all be out taking advantage of it whenever we can!

YidLife Crisis: new web series set in Montreal

I can't remember how, but I came across this YouTube video a few weeks ago for a new web series called YidLife Crisis. It was in my bookmarks for weeks but when I finally got around to watching it, I was really surprised and entertained.

The episodes are short, around five minutes each, and they are very simply an interaction between two men. Around food: poutine, smoked meat sandwiches, bagels. In Yiddish. Yes, in Yiddish. With English subtitles. Starring Jamie Elman and Eli Batalion, the show is a rare convergence of all kinds of talent.

What I found interesting is that when I watched the first episode of YidLife Crisis, I assumed it was set in New York and done by New Yorkers and I had the thought: Damn, everything is in New York. For a moment I reacted to it in a very specific way (I was ready to simply move on after watching the first episode). Then the waitress walks by and starts speaking French and I realized: oh, this is Montreal. This a Montreal show! And my entire relationship with it changed.

The third episode is really these guys getting into their stride: all about Montreal (via the famous Montreal bagel), our diversity, our neighborhoods, and it has some lovely summer shots as they walk around in Mile End discussing the ever-present argument about which bagels are better: Fairmount or St-Viateur. By the fourth, they are on a roll.

What I love about our city is, naturally, the amazing diversity of cultures and languages here. We have one of the only remaining Yiddish theatre companies in the world, and artists from here (as well as artists who come here) do innovative and interesting kinds of work: from circus performers to writers to singers to producers. But this is the first time I've seen a good web series set in Montreal.

So far only four episodes are posted but I hope more are in the works.

Mile End still from web series YidLife Crisis

Monday, October 20, 2014

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

I held out as long as I could but I read all three of the books so far (in English) starting in July.

So now I have to wait an entire year to read the next installment. Which hurts a bit. I just finished the 3rd one, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, over the weekend and now my hands feel idle and empty. I need another book to adore!

The fourth book in Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan novels comes out in September 2015!

Wow, they are so worth reading...I've also turned several friends on to them and a few people I know were reading them pretty much at the same speed that I was.

I can't recommend these books enough. But start with the first one, My Brilliant Friend.

If you haven't been paying attention (I've written about the books before), the novels trace the friendship (and sometimes "enemy-ship") of two girls growing up in 1950s Naples. They are full of pain, humour and psychological meanderings that are fascinating. They are highly readable and the two main characters are some of the most memorable characters I can recall in recent memory. As the 3rd book ends, it's the late 1970s and something momentous happens (though I wont' spoil it) involving a different character who runs through all the books and our protagonist. It's both surprising and kind of expected. But emotionally one can relate to her pain, her passion, her longings and her fear for the future.

I could go on. But if you find yourself in a bookstore or online, get My Brilliant Friend and be prepared to disappear into a world like none you've ever experienced.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Live Nude Writers

A busy season of literary events and one interesting event I saw last week was Live Nude Writers. The evening was held at Stock Bar, also known as one of Montreal's most popular gay strip clubs.

Peter Dubé reading from his work
The readings started with Jordan Coulombe who's the editor of Crooked Fagazine (one of the few magazines today that can't be read online). He read a segment from a book that he is currently working on. Next up was Christopher DiRaddo, author of The Geography of Pluto, a fascinating novel set in 1990s Montreal about a young gay man coming of age. Chris read a funny segment he wrote a few years back from an anthology, a piece about being hairy(!). Then my friend Peter Dubé read from his forthcoming collection of short fiction pieces, Beginning with the Mirror. Peter is always a treat to read, not just for his eyebrow-raising subject matter (lots of sex scenes) but for his very unique timbre of reading and inflection. Also I'm a huge fan of his writing, including The City's Gates and Subtle Bodies. Indeed, whenever I hear someone complain about the dearth of Canadian fiction that pushes the boundaries of form, I always bring up Peter whose work is always a revelation and always unpredictable.

Poet John Barton rounded out the evening with a reading from his most recent collection, Polari,
Christopher DiRaddo reads about being hairy
which explores the coded language which gay men used to communicate about their lives with each other. I'm not terribly familiar with Barton's work but his collection is one that is definitely at the top of my list.

All in all it was an entertaining evening full of solid writing in a space that hinted at sexiness (though there were no strippers to be had on this particular evening). A stroke of genius to hold a reading at this space and I hope to see others here in the future.

Saturday, October 11, 2014



     It usually begins innocently enough with an acceleration, unnoticeable
at first, of the turning of the earth. Leave home at once and do not bring
along any of your family. Take a few indispensable things. Place yourself as
far as possible from the centre, near the forests the seas or the mountains,
before the whirling motion as it gets stronger from minute to minute begins
to pour in towards the middle, suffocating in ghettoes, closets, basements.
Hang on forcefully to the outer circumference. Keep your head down.
Have your two hands constantly free. Take good care of the muscles of
your legs.
                                      --Zbigniew Herbert

Friday, October 10, 2014

Scenes from a Marriage at New York Theater Workshop

I was in New York over the weekend and saw a very interesting production of Scenes from a Marriage done by the New York Theater Workshop. Based on a 1973 Swedish television series written by Ingmar Bergman, the adaptation was fascinating. Not 100% successful but it certainly had me interested.

The premise is relatively simple: a couple at three crisis points in their marriage decide whether it's worth
continuing or not, a younger couple, a middle-aged couple and an older couple. The innovation in Ivo van Hove's version (the Flemish director who staged this NYTW version; the adaptation was written by Emily Mann) was that all three scenes were going on at the same time: though on three different stages with three different audiences. So the audience was divided up into three groups and each group saw a different scene first.

That's unusual enough but the way the set was done allowed each audience to see the other scenes going on at the same time. We couldn't necessarily hear them (only the loud parts where characters were shouting) but we could see the actors both on-stage and off-stage (in fact, the "off-stage" area was part of the set so we could even see the actors off-stage in between). This approach was fascinating and innovative. (Though I could see what they were doing by allowing the sound from other scenes to echo into whatever scene we were currently watching, often this was intrusive and distracting.)

The part that didn't work for me was that the interaction between each couple (played by different actors, so six main actors in total) was vastly different. The presence of each character varied radically depending on the actor portraying them: the young man had a vastly different persona than the middle-aged man, etc., and this naturally affected the way we reacted to each couple's interaction. Perhaps this was intentional but what I was left with was the sensation that each scene was really the iteration of a different couple's crisis, not the same couple at different points in their lives. Not the same crises, in other words. But that's kind of key to the Bergman story: crises evolve, shift, but at the core, they are the same crises and we repeat the same patterns over and over in a couple.

Scenes from a Marriage
The film series has been highly influential (and many, in fact, suggest that the popularity of the series caused Sweden's divorce rate to tick up in the early to mid 70s) so it's daring to take on something this important and well-known (despite this being some of Bergman's lesser known work). This version is available at Criterion.

So the first act is all three scenes going on at the same time and then after each scene, the audience moves to a different part of the room and sees the next scene and the actors all do it again. Then once more: so by the end of the first act, we've seen all three scenes but not all the audience has seen the scenes in the same order (and the actors repeat each scene three times).

Where I felt unsure was the second act: all six actors come out on to the stage and they act out a scene together: all six of them saying their lines. So the women will speak (all three of them) with the men responding (all three of them). It was confusing and complicated and a bit overwrought emotionally, I thought. Hard to follow and hard to crack the notion that we were right in the middle of a production. The artifice was very apparent, in other words (one thing I love about good theatre is that ability to just forget that you're seeing a theatre piece). That said, it made me think about how vital the actor is in portraying a role. Whereas in the first act, the different actors meant a different kind of relationship each time, in the second act, you could really see how each actor put their own individual stamp on the part in a really immediate way (the way each one performed the lines, right after one another). It was also here that I felt that it was becoming overly long (the entire piece is 3 1/2 hours long!).

It's the first production I've seen at NYTW though I've heard other friends talk about this company before. I'd definitely recommend them to anyone who happens to be in New York for a few days. The acting was superb. I'm not a huge fan of Broadway, to be honest, and when I'm in New York, I am often struck with how bland and mainstream most of the crap is that Broadway. I don't care about famous actors: I just want to see a well-written show with good acting that's interesting. So I generally avoid Broadway and try to visit productions at these smaller off-Broadway companies (with varying quality). It's also the first work I've seen by stage director Van Hove.

Now I really want to revisit the Swedish television series while it's fresh in my mind. But with all the books I have to read, no time right now...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Daniel Mendelsohn in Montreal: November 3

As part of their ongoing 100th anniversary celebrations, the Jewish Public Library has invited American writer, Daniel Mendelsohn, as one of their key note speakers in early November. I'm looking forward to this.

Mendelsohn is one of the most engaging and fascinating non-fiction writers working today, and his oeuvre is as varied as it is intellectually rigorous.

New Yorker writer, Daniel Mendelsohn
He is perhaps most recently known for his skewering of Mad Men a few years ago, an essay that is funny and incredibly insightful. (Though I was a fan of the show, I also found it frequently irritating and clumsy and so I appreciated hearing his opinion and judgement since no one seemed to be willing to say anything negative about it. Many people mentioned this article to me when it came out.).

But the book of Mendelsohn's which I really love is his translations of C. P. Cavafy. The Greek poet's words have rarely felt so immediate, so vivid and so moving. This is one of my most treasured books of poetry.

Mendelsohn has also written memoirs and treatises on popular culture. Most recently, he wrote a very interesting piece in the New Yorker about his pen-pal relationship with the writer Mary Renault and how she "mentored" him in a certain way and inspired him to become a writer.

I have no doubt that Mendelsohn will have a lot to say at the Jewish Public Library on November 3 at 8pm. (Tickets here).